CLEARFIELD COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) – As COVID-19 cases across the country continue to climb, so is the number of patients being hospitalized due to COVID. Meanwhile, hospitals have been faced with staffing shortages, as people have been leaving the healthcare field in recent years for a number of reasons, and it’s led to hospitals being understaffed, overwhelmed, and patients waiting longer for care.

“There have been a few times where we have seen a higher census than may be normal,” said Stacey Osborne, the chief nursing officer at Geisinger Lewistown Hospital.

She added that wait times in the ER are Geisinger has fluctuated depending on the day, or even the hour. Wednesday morning, 90 people were in the Geisinger Lewistown’s ER, which put the hospital at about 85% capacity.

“Our staff works hard to meet those challenges,” Osborne said. “Which is why we do stress the importance of coming to the emergency room for true emergencies that cannot be cared for in places such as a primary care office or in the urgent care setting.”

At Penn Highlands DuBois, patients in emergency rooms have experienced wait times of up to eight hours. We reached out to the hospital for comment and Penn Highlands declined an interview request but released a statement to WTAJ confirming longer waits are happening and went on to say:

“Similar to most health systems and businesses across the U.S., Penn Highlands Healthcare is also facing staffing issues.  With these staffing concerns and the recent spike in COVID-19 patients being treated in our hospitals, longer wait times are occurring — specifically in our ERs.  We continue to encourage people who are not experiencing life-threatening injuries or illnesses to see their primary care providers, visit a QCare walk-in clinic, or Urgent Care clinic in Huntingdon. People who are seeking COVID-19 testing should also go to the urgent care and walk-in clinics for testing.  For more information on when to go to an ER vs. walk-in / urgent care clinc, Penn Highlands encourages people to download this pocket guide on when to call 911. To help with the staffing issues, PHH is taking a team approach with physicians, advanced practice providers and others from the health system stepping in when needed to provide care and support normally done by nurses, medical assistants and others. Second, we are continually to recruit highly trained and qualified healthcare providers to work with our patients. In addition, in 2017, we established the “Bring Them Home” program to identify and reach aspiring healthcare professionals who hail from our region while they are still in school and training. This program is proving a great recruitment source for Penn Highlands. We encourage everyone to get vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19 as that will help reduce the number of patients being treated in the hospitals.

As of November 1, 66% of employees in Penn Highlands hospitals were fully vaccinated, with the January 4 deadline looming. Geisinger hospitals implemented their own vaccine mandate effective November 1, and Osborne said 150 employees quit afterward.

“We have needed to bring in some temporary agency staff to help us meet the needs of our patients in our communities in the meantime. But again we continue to try to recruit as much as we can,” Osborne said.

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